When reports first began to surface last week that former Oregon Duck QB Jeremiah Masoli had contacted Ole Miss seeking a place to transfer and finish his college career, most people familiar with the program did not put much stock in it.
Yes, the early departure of Jevan Snead left the Rebels needing a new starter, but third year sophomore Nathan Stanley and redshirt freshman Raymond Cotton — though almost wholly inexperienced — were viewed as giving the team at least a puncher’s chance at the position, if not perhaps bringing more to the table than those outside the program might wager.
In addition, JUCO First Team All-American QB Randall Mackey arrived on campus this summer, with expectations that the versatile athlete would take over the Wild Rebel package, bringing not only credibility to that package’s pass options, but depth to the QB position in sum.
Under these circumstances, the risk/reward ratio on bringing Masoli to Oxford was skewed heavy on the risk. When originally contacted about the possibility via text, Houston Nutt responded to The Clarion-Ledger’s David Brandt with a simple “no.”
Just a few days later, however, Raymond Cotton decided to transfer out of Ole Miss, a decision flash-pointed by Stanley’s — and not Cotton’s — invitation to participate in the Manning Passing Academy.
The frustrating part for anyone associated with Ole Miss is that Cotton had a great spring game, and would have been given every opportunity early in the season to prove — on the field — that he deserved the job.
Not many redshirt freshmen in the SEC can claim the same.
Whether Cotton realized the opportunity he had in Oxford or not, he no longer believed in the one that took him there in the first place and decided to leave.
Cotton’s parents were against their son’s decision to transfer, but felt it was his to make, and every Ole Miss Fan should wish Cotton and his family the best of luck moving forward.
Decision made, the original model Nutt used to weigh the option of Masoli coming aboard became irrelevant; if Cotton stays there is no Jeremiah Masoli at Ole Miss.
Sans Cotton, it is no longer about wanting Masoli, it is about needing Masoli.
And the Ole Miss Rebels need Jeremiah Masoli.
Adding Masoli does not drastically alter what is already a rebuilding year for the Rebels. A 6-6 or 7-5 forecast for the 2010 season does not automatically jump to contending for the Western Division title.
This is not about going 10-2; it is about not going 2-10.
A return to a losing season like the one that made Nutt’s position in Oxford possible is the worst thing that could happen to the Ole Miss Football program this year, and bringing in Masoli is an insurance policy against that.
Coming off back-to-back nine win seasons and consecutive Top 20 recruiting classes, Nutt has the program in revival, though expectations for this season are not that high due to all the new faces on the offensive side of the ball.
Stanley is untested, and no one knows how Mackey’s athleticism will translate to the SEC, and that is before you get to the thought of what happens should one of the two get hurt.
In Masoli, Nutt would have the option of putting in a quarterback that has seen some of the best FBS football has to offer, and — fact is — Masoli played pretty well against it.
That is not a bad Plan B if something — either injury or ineffectiveness — should befall Stanley or Mackey.
Stanley is the pro-style quarterback of the group and is still charged with managing the dominant packages in Nutt’s offense. Expectations for Stanley — at least to start the season — do not change with Masoli’s presence.
Stanley would still be number one on the depth chart and would still be responsible for the bulk of what Ole Miss does on offense, particularly in pro-set formations.
It is the other packages in the offense, and their frequency of use where Masoli could have affect.
Nutt and his offensive staff were already planning on using the Wild Rebel package much more this year as a percentage of plays than years past, due largely to the want to get Mackey in the game, the need to help out an inexperienced interior along the offensive line, and to keep opposing defenses honest against a very green passing game.
Defensive coaches will tell you that it is tough to defend — and blitz — Wildcat formations, of which the Wild Rebel is a variant. Every play that can be run out of the formation starts and proceeds exactly the same before the ball is snapped.
The Wildcat evolved from the much older Wing-T formation — one of the oldest in football history — and both have served as models for the modern evolution: The Zone Read Offense.
Guess what Masoli ran while at Oregon?
The blocking schemes required to run the zone read are not all that dissimilar to those used in running the Wild Rebel; the major difference being the use of unbalanced lines in the latter.
Moreover, Nutt and his long-time offensive line coach — and now co-offensive coordinator — Mike Markuson essentially ran the zone read at Arkansas when Matt Jones was at the helm.
No grand reconstruction will have to take place within the Rebel offensive playbook to justify bringing Masoli in. There are plenty of plays Masoli would be able to run with little more than a week in camp, assuming he has kept himself in any kind of shape.
Masoli first and foremost brings depth to a position where none exists, and if he is able to run some packages early on in the season while growing more accustomed with the playbook, the risk is well worth it and the schedule accommodates such a plan.
The heart of the matter is that Ole Miss cannot go into the season without a third option at quarterback.
The only thing Nutt should do — and it really is a must — is talk to his team’s leadership and quarterbacks and ask them to sign off on Masoli. The biggest risk in bringing in Masoli is what could happen to the team if Masoli climbs on and things do not go well.
There has to be enough strength of leadership on the team to handle the situation should it become toxic.
If the players feel that the risk is worth the reckoning, and were given a voice in saying so, the locker room will be fine if things go bad.
Player approval is the moral validity for the move and will go a long way to stabilizing the team during the backlash sure to follow Masoli joining Ole Miss.
And there will be backlash.
The wave of sanctimony and moral righteousness sure to descend on Oxford will be swift, noisy and vicious. Every pretend saint with a keyboard or a microphone will cast stones condemning the Right Reverend Nutt for making a deal with the devil.
Pundits love their proselytizing perches, and message-board troglodytes have never let logic, grammar or hypocrisy stand in the way of saying things they never would without the protection of anonymity.
Ole Miss Fans should get ready to hear from both, but be quick to remember that it does not mean a thing.
A background of stealing laptops has not kept Auburn Fans from anointing Cam Newton just the quarterback savior needed to bring Coach Gene Chizik’s Tiger turnaround to completion. Nor did it keep in-state rival Mississippi State from pursuing Newton this past recruiting season to bring legitimacy to Dan Mullen’s attempts to do the same for the Bulldogs.
If Masoli helps Ole Miss win, the same people writing stories about how wrong it is in August to be given yet another chance to play will be the same people writing stories on the power of redemption come December.
Save the passion plays for Sunday; they have little place on Saturdays during football season. The game of college football quit focusing on moral imperatives long ago, and that is only if you believe that they ever held sway in the first place.
Nobody tallies moral victories, and no coach has ever been paid to accumulate them.
Winning on Saturdays is the arbiter of all things in college football, and worse things than giving a talented kid another chance have been sacrificed at the altar in an attempt to do so.
Nutt’s only real decision to make is whether or not Masoli can help the team overcome the situation created by Cotton’s transfer. If he decides that it does, then the only moral imperative credible in this whole she-bang is the one Nutt has to do what is necessary to put his team in the best position to win.
Jeb Williamson covers Ole Miss Football as a Featured Columnist for the Bleacher Report. He welcomes and appreciates all comments. Click here to view his profile page for other articles.